Jet-black clothing, high-fashion good looks and a hell of a light show seem to be the staples of a build-an-indie-pop-band kit in 2014. While eyes may roll at that short list, The Naked And Famous, the buzzing electro-rock band from New Zealand that now calls L.A. home, were doing it long before it was a musical requisite. After two critically acclaimed records and countless tour dates, the songwriting core of vocalist Alisa Xayalith, guitarist Thom Powers and keyboardist Aaron Short, supplemented by drummer David Beadle and drummer Jesse Wood, has sharpened both their writing and their live act to a razor's edge, all while adhering to their motif.
The Naked And Famous rode in on the electronic pop era, finding mainstream success just a few years after the rise of Passion Pit and MGMT, and did so with a bit more teeth than their forerunners. Heavy, fuzzed-out synth lines and four-on-the-floor drum parts are punctuated by Alisa Xayalith's airy vocals, delivered in a high register that's foiled against the depth of the production. It's a sound that's now signature to the band, even as their songs have grown more anthemic, more nuanced.
“We've evolved as a unit, [because] when we first started off with those early EPs, Thom and I were into what sounded cool, what went well with it,” Short says. “We were a studio-driven project at that point, and the biggest thing over these couple of years have been the massive amounts of live touring that we've done. It's changed the way we write, in the way of how we're going to pull this off live.”
Short isn't being hyperbolic either: The Naked And Famous is a big festival get, as well as one of those bands that has strong international appeal, adding up to a lot of time on the road. Starting out in Auckland and later moving to Silver Lake and Echo Park while recording 2013's In Rolling Waves, the band has racked up considerable time on the European festival circuit and extensive headlining tours of their own. It's the smaller rooms that Short looks forward to playing though, such as the Observatory this Friday night, because they appeal to both the stadium and club aspects of the band.
“A 1,000 or 2,000 [capacity] room, they're big enough to fit all the production in because we like to go a little crazy with the lights,” he says. “It sounds right and looks right, but you have this slight intimate connection with the crowd being right in front of you. It's what makes us most powerful when we have that kind of setup.”
While The Naked And Famous is summer festival staple now, Short, Xayalith and Powers never saw what was once a studio project becoming the powerhouse it is today. Even on the commercial success of their tracks and their multinational following, the grind of touring will always take its toll. Pushing through the headache, however, has made The Naked And Famous do their best.
“At times there isn't always the passion or [it's] a fun thing, and it's those times that you have to work hard,” he explains. “There's been moments when you can tell everyone's spirits in the room are really down because no one wants to be doing what they're doing, but if we're going to make that second round, then we better get everything right. It always comes from the internal pressure we put on ourselves. That's as tough as it gets for us.”
The Naked And Famous are scheduled to play The Observatory on Friday, Aug. 22. Doors are at 7:00 p.m.